1. Home » Bikes and Tech » Tech editor Zack Vestal ferrets out the best bikes on day one of the NAHBS in Indianapolis.

Tech editor Zack Vestal ferrets out the best bikes on day one of the NAHBS in Indianapolis.

By Zack Vestal

NAHBS, day 1: Cielo Cycles' classic form by Chris King.

NAHBS, day 1: Cielo Cycles’ classic form by Chris King.

Photo: Zack Vestal

With more than 100 exhibitors and a seemingly endless array of handcrafted bicycles and parts, the North American Handmade Bicycle Show feels like an oasis of optimism amid the current business climate.

The range of products on display, and the range of companies (and individuals) creating them, is a testament to the relative health of the cycling industry. There is room for huge multinational corporations like SRAM and Shimano, and also for Peacock Cycles — a business that sold only four frames last year. One thing in common among all present is an obvious passion for the bicycle, in every form possible.

Chris King and Cielo Cycles

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Chris King introduced a new headset, the InSet. It’s a sealed bearing, low stack headset in the style of the Cane Creek “Zero Stack” and other headsets that do not have traditional bearing cups. It’s built to the same exacting Chris King standards and bearing quality that have defined King headsets for the last 33 years. The new headset appeared on bikes from several manufacturers, including Independent Fabrications, Serotta, Moots, and others. Certain models from Intense, Trek, Gary Fisher, and more already have head tube shapes that accept this headset type. The InSet is available for 1 1/8th-inch forks, tapered 1 1/8th to 1 ½- inch forks, and full 1.5” forks.

Also available from Chris King is an external type, threaded bottom bracket. Shimano compatible, the bottom bracket is available in all the nine headset colors. Again, it’s built to the famous King benchmark for quality, and was visible on many bikes on show. In contrast to similar units from other brands, it’s serviceable with a grease injector tool, available separately. Also available is a cup installation tool, which fits the part perfectly.

The biggest news from Chris King is the full launch of Cielo Cycles. Years ago, before building headsets full-time, Chris King was welding bike frames, and calling them Cielo. After showing one frame last year, Cielo has been resurrected to produce two frame models: a road frameset and a cyclocross frameset. The bikes are meant as “readymade classics,” not fully custom, but available in 17 stock sizes. Color choices are limited to just two, and frame features and geometry are designed to evoke a sense of timeless consistency and craftsmanship.

NAHBS, day 1: The headtube lug work, and, of course, a King headset.

NAHBS, day 1: The headtube lug work, and, of course, a King headset.

Photo: Zack Vestal

Look for an in-depth conversation with spokesperson Chris DiStefano of Chris King and Cielo Cycles in the next few weeks. The new Cielo Web site went live just Friday.

Independent Fabrications

Independent Fabrications arrived to NAHBS with a full-court press of prototypes, one-offs, and custom bicycles. Perhaps most newsworthy is the release of a fully carbon fiber prototype frame. “This is 001, just finished the other day,” said Tyler Evans of Independent. “So we’ll see,” he continued, “We put a lot of time and effort into just getting this far — now we have something just to show and we’re going to go back and work on creating an actual model.”

It is built by joining carbon fiber lugs and tubes, and is assembled and completed in-house by Independent Fabrication employees. Edge Composites has aided the process of bringing a complete carbon fiber frame to fruition for Independent. Lugs are made using adjustable molds, and thus can be made to order. Several degrees of variation in angle on the lugs can accommodate a relatively wide range of customization.

Evans was quick to point out that working in carbon fiber is not a huge departure for Independent. “The whole thing we do is work in steel, heavily optimized steel, stainless steel, various types of titanium, titanium/carbon fiber mixture,” he said. “Our basic goal is to build bikes regardless of material,” he continued. “We want to become experts in the whole range so we can dial in the best of what a customer wants.”

A completely one-off pursuit frame with a Chinese New Year theme almost stole the spotlight from Independent’s first full-carbon frame. The frame was the first to be welded this year, on January 1 of 2009, and sports the 001 serial number. It was completed and painted in time for Chinese New Year on January 20th, and the paint scheme reflects the Year of the Ox. Chinese characters spell out “Independent Fabrications.”

PAUL Component Engineering

PAUL Component Engineering has been a mainstay in the cycling industry for years. Brakes by PAUL are known for simplicity, light weight, reliability, and graceful appearance. All components are well-crafted and often suit the needs of those with special demands.

NAHBS, day 1: The new Paul chainguard is highly adjustable and comes in three clamp sizes.

NAHBS, day 1: The new Paul chainguard is highly adjustable and comes in three clamp sizes.

Photo: Zack Vestal

New on display this season is a chain guide for single front chainrings. It’s highly adjustable, available in three standard clamp sizes (1 3/8-inch, 1 ¼-inch and 1 1/8-inch). Also new for this season is a fixed-gear, disc brake rear hub, for those that enjoy fixed-gear mountain bike rides. “Thumbies” are perches for road bike, bar end time trial shifters, to allow for use on flat bars as old-school thumbshifters. Fitment is now available for SRAM, Shimano, and Campagnolo. For the urban fixie rider, PAUL E-levers are sold only as singles, and provide the ultimate in minimalist brake levers.

For commuters, two clever products are on offer: a replacement stem cap that includes a mounting point for a light, and a sturdy front basket. The Flatbed basket has hardwood slats, and a highly adjustable front attachment point.

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